1 Timothy 3:16 seems like a pretty straightforward knock-out punch for Trinitarianism.

"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh[.]" (KJB)

How do Biblical Unitarians, who hold Jesus is not God but also hold to a strong view of scripture, explain this verse?

  • 1
    This isn't the question you're asking, but: there are also some non-trinitarian denominations who believe that Jesus is God--Oneness Pentecostals, for example. I imagine they wouldn't have any trouble explaining this verse in its KJB version either.
    – DLosc
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 15:57

2 Answers 2


Please bear with me while I introduce the relevance of the work of a Unitarian scholar who was involved in the 1881 revision of the King James Version of the New Testament. The answer to your question comes at the end of this post.

George Vance Smith (1816-1902) was a Unitarian scholar who participated in the revision committee for the New Testament of the 1881 Revised Version. He was a Unitarian minister of St. Saviour’s Gate Chapel, York, who denied the deity and atonement of Jesus Christ, the personality of the Holy Spirit, and the divine inspiration of Scripture.

He wrote a book explaining that the new RV readings favor Unitarian doctrines. He called it: Texts and margins of the revised New Testament: affecting theological doctrine briefly reviewed. He shares some candid thoughts about the doctrinal impact or, potential doctrinal impact of changes in the RV, some of which reflect changes in the base-text and some of which are translational.

When an attempt was made to have Smith removed from the ERV translation committee, Westcott, Hort, Stanley, and Thirlwall stood by him and threatened that they would resign if Smith were removed. A.G. Hobbs in the foreword to the Centennial Edition of Burgon’s Revision Revised said:

“[Smith’s participation in the communion service] led to a public protest signed by ‘some thousands of the Clergy.’ The Upper House passed a Resolution that ‘no person who denies the Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ ought to be invited to join either company to which was committed the Revision of the Authorized Version of Holy Scripture: and that it is further the judgment of this House that any person now on either Company should cease to act therewith.’ This Resolution was also passed by the Lower House. And still they could not get this non-believer off the Committee. Here is a real shocker: Dean Stanley, Westcott, Hort, and Bishop Thirlwall all refused to serve if Smith were dismissed. Let us remember that the Bible teaches that those who uphold and bid a false teacher God speed are equally guilty. ‘For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds’ (2 John 9-11). No wonder that the Deity of Christ is played down in so many passages!” (A.G. Hobbs, Foreword, The Revision Revised Centennial Edition).

Smith testified that the textual changes in the English Revised Version and the Westcott-Hort Greek New Testament reflected his own theology. Some of the passages listed by Smith as being theologically superior in the modern texts and versions as opposed to the King James Bible were Rom. 9:5; 1 Tim. 3:16; Tit. 2:13; and 1 Jn. 5:7, and that is because these passages in the critical text weakened the doctrine of Christ’s deity, which Smith rejected. This English Reviser admitted what modern version proponents today such as James White often try to deny, that the modern Greek texts and versions weaken the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ.

Here is the explanation regarding the changes made in 1 Timothy 3:16, which reflects the view of Biblical Unitarians:

“The old reading [“God” in 1 Tim. 3:16] is pronounced untenable by the Revisers, as it has long been known to be by all careful students of the New Testament. ... It is in truth another example of the facility with which ancient copiers could introduce the word God into their manuscripts,—a reading which was the natural result of THE GROWING TENDENCY IN EARLY CHRISTIAN TIMES ... TO LOOK UPON THE HUMBLE TEACHER AS THE INCARNATE WORD, AND THEREFORE AS ‘GOD MANIFESTED IN THE FLESH’” (G. Vance Smith, Texts and Margins, p. 39).

This is their justification for changing the text in 1 Timothy 3:16. I do not endorse it, but it goes some way to understanding why anti-trinitarians accept the work of Smith, Westcott and Hort.

Source: https://textus-receptus.com/wiki/George_Vance_Smith


Anyone could explain the apparent paradox by noting the biased translation used. As many understand today, the King James Bible is peppered with error and infusion of poor/wrong translation. Not being a true translation at all really, but an adaptation of previously released translations with selective interpretation to satisfy the King's demands.

James gave the translators instructions intended to ensure that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology, and reflect the episcopal structure, of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy. (Wiki.)

With a cursory glance at other bibles, most list 'he' or 'Christ' which is acceptable.

“he.” There are some Greek manuscripts that read, “God appeared in the flesh.” This reading of some Greek manuscripts has passed into some English versions, and the King James Version is one of them. Trinitarian scholars admit, however, that these Greek texts were altered by scribes in favor of the Trinitarian position. The reading of the earliest and best manuscripts is not “God” but rather “he who.” Almost all the modern versions have the verse as “the mystery of godliness is great, which was manifest in the flesh,” or some close equivalent. BU comm. 1Tim.

Continuing to show the proof-texting methodology employed to use a biased text to proclaim mistruth.

When properly translated, 1 Timothy 3:16 actually argues against the Trinity. It all fits with what we know of the man, Jesus Christ. If Jesus were God, this section of Scripture would have been the perfect place to say so. Instead of saying that “he was made known in the flesh,” we would expect to see some phrase such as, “God was incarnate,” or “God came in the flesh,” or “he came as true God and true man,” etc. But nothing like that occurs. Instead, the section testifies to what non-Trinitarians believe—that Jesus was a man, begotten by the Father, and that he was taken up into glory. BU comm. 1Tim.

The various claims noted in the verse can not be referring to God anyway. Such is the agenda of altering one word, when it then makes no contextual sense as is often noted with biased translation.

Beyond question, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory. 1Tim 3:16 NASB

  • vindicated in the spirit,
  • seen by angels,
  • taken up in glory.

All these can only apply to Jesus and cannot apply to God.

  • What do we make of the 'mystery'? Isn't this obviously the mystery of the incarnation? Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 3:40
  • Obviously according to some! But that would be another Q - I'm already 'burned' on this one lol! It's a toss-up between 3in1's or KJV devotees who are dv-ing the sourced answer of the asked Q.
    – steveowen
    Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 3:45
  • Ya, I know. It's pretty juvenile stuff. Alas! Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 14:19
  • 1
    I personally think the theological conclusions in this answer go too far, and it might be improved by adding the phrase "Biblical Unitarians believe" in a couple places. But the core of the answer is sound and directly answers the question. +1.
    – DLosc
    Commented Jul 26, 2022 at 15:52

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